Second most important philosopher in Marxism after Marx. Known as father of neo-Marxism. (Luckacs is also called so.)
Neo Marxism: Critical / Frankfurt school & Structural school both have origin in Gramsci
He was Italian Marxist, contemporary of Mussolini. Gramsci was the founder of Communist Party of Italy. He was considered as one of the most dangerous minds. Gramsci was put behind bars, he died in the prison itself at young age because of bad health. Gramsci’s writings were published in the form of prison notebooks – LETTERS FROM PRISON.
Purpose of Gramsci as a thinker.
He wanted to know why Marxist predictions have gone wrong. Why revolution didn’t happened as predicted by Marx. Hence he critically examined Marx’s explanation of history. He looked for other explanations of history, he got impressed by the theory of history given by Italian scholar Benedetto Croce. Croce has emphasized on role of cultural factors in history. Hence Gramsci felt that maybe Marx has ignored the role of cultural factors in history.
Gramsci is called as ‘theoretician of superstructure’. He believed that Marx has taken superstructure for granted. However superstructures are also structures.
Marx’s explanation of history has been criticized as crude economic determinism. But because of Gramsci’s contribution, Marxism is no more crude economic determinism.
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Comparison of Marx’s & Gramsci’s explanation of history.
Marx’s model of society: Base and superstructure model.
Economic structure is the basic structure. State, Church, Media, Educational institutions are part of superstructure. For Marx superstructure is not a structure in itself but reflection of the base. It means if economic structure changes, superstructure will change automatically. It means only one revolution is required i.e. change in the basic structure or mode of production.
For Gramsci, it is not enough to fight at the level of economic structure. We have to fight at two levels, basic structure and superstructure. It is more challenging to change the superstructure. Basic structure can change in a day, but superstructure may take centuries.
Gramsci’s concept of civil society.
Like all Marxists Gramsci also considers economic structure as the basic structure. It means ultimate determinant is economic structure. However unlike Marx, Gramsci suggests superstructure is also a structure. He divides superstructure into two layers. 1. Civil society. 2. State. Together they form Integral State.
Purpose of state is to act as a instrument of the capitalist class. It helps in perpetuation of the rule of capitalist class. State represents the coercive force, used against those who want to challenge capitalism.
Role of Civil society
Civil society also perpetuates the domination of capitalism. But it is much closer to base, it acts as a first layer of protection and it acts as a cushion/shock absorber
If state uses coercion, civil society uses power of attraction. Civil society works to create attraction for the bourgeoise way of life or values. Gramsci used the term ‘Hegemony’ for the ‘power of attraction.’
The literal meaning of Hegemony is leadership. Leader also use force. Leader also compels others to work according to his will. However leader relies on power of attraction or generate consent e.g. British State represented force of coercion. Gandhi represented force of attraction.
Hegemony is the ability of the ruling class and the power of their value to live in the minds of subaltern classes as spontaneous expression of their own ideas. In democratic societies, the dominant class rules by generating the sufficient amount of consent. They are able to generate consent because at times they also present themselves to be sensitive of the concerns of the governed.
Hegemony requires that the ruling class adopt some of the values of those whom they rule. Hegemony cannot be taken for granted, it has to be produced on the continuous basis. Hegemony is a power actively lived in the oppressed as common sense. Hegemony defines the limit of common sense.
Hegemony represents soft power. If hard power is exercised on body, soft power is exercised on mind. If hard power is concrete, soft power is invisible. If hard power is based on coercion, soft power is based on consent. Thus capitalism continue because of its ability to generate the consent in its favor. That idea becomes hegemonic idea which is regarded as common sense. It becomes a way of life. Civil society play the role of manufacturing consent. Intellectuals play the most important role in this process.
Broader definition of Hegemony
Thus hegemony established the leadership of the dominant class. It involves a continuous process of transaction, negotiation and compromise.
Gramsci has given a very different interpretation of intellectuals. In every society, intellectuals receive the greatest amount of respect. They are seen as ‘those who can tell about the truth’. In general persons which have acknowledged accomplishments in art, science, literature and other disciplines are recognized as intellectuals. It is also assumed that intellectuals are neutral autonomous, persons engaged in understanding the truth. According to Gramsci, ‘every person is intellectual, but every person does not perform the task of intellectuals.’
Every person is intellectual because every person perform some work. Every work requires manual as well as intellectual labour. But every work is not recognized as intellectual work. The work which has unique importance in the system of production.
The main role of intellectuals is maintenance of the system. By generating such values, lifestyle, which helps in perpetuation of the system.
Gramsci has classified intellectual into two types
1] Traditional intellectuals
2] Organic intellectuals
1] Organic intellectuals
When a new dominant class emerges it brings into existence the class of intellectuals who will play role in maintaining the system. e.g. He talks about the organic intellectuals which emerged with the rise of capitalism. Capitalists class also brings into existence the class of intellectuals like engineers, managers, doctors, bankers, supervisors, technicians, civil servants etc.
They are called organic because they are organically linked with dominant class
The act to create of culture of capitalism, help in maintaining hegemony of dominant class. They are deputies of dominant class.
Working classes should adopt the same strategy. They should learn from capitalist. how they have maintained their domination and adopt the same strategy.
Capitalist have maintained the domination, not just by physical force, not just by economic power, but by manufacturing consent, by making capitalism common sense, by making capitalism the mass culture.
Capitalists have not done it alone, Capitalist have formed coalition with engineers, supervisors, technicians, civil servants.. Capitalist have provided leadership to them. They have convinced that their interests are served better when they work together.
What workers should do?
Don’t go alone, make the coalition of like minded groups. He talks about the coalition of subaltern class. Subaltern means the depressed classes. Workers may not be the only class exploited by capitalist. There may be other classes also e.g. In case of India, we can include dalits, tribal, minorities, women, transgenders as the subaltern classes.
2] Traditional intellectuals
Those persons who have been recognized as intellectuals before the emergence of the new dominant class e.g. In the west, Church fathers were traditional intellectuals. They were working in nexus with the aristocracy. They were generating consent for the earlier dominant class. Since they are not organically originated with the new dominant class, they appear autonomous. There may be some decline in their prestige or social position. However the capitalist class forms coalition, even with this class. Gramsci suggests that working classes should try to establish nexus with even this class.
Gramsci also suggests that working classes should have their own organic intellectuals. There is no revolution without intellectuals. So far workers produce intellectuals like technicians, supervisors, who despite belonging to their class, have been incorporated by the capitalists. Now they should work for their own class. They should provide leadership to the working class. Supervisors and technicians can act as the organic intellectuals for the working classes.
Gramsci on revolution
Gramsci talks about two stage revolution. 1] War of position, 2] War of maneuver.
War of position is against civil society. The purpose of war of position is to establish counter hegemony. Hegemony belongs to the dominant class, counter hegemony belongs to the depressed class e.g. Brahminism, Patriarchy is a hegemony. Dalitism and feminism are examples of counter hegemony. Hence the war of position has to be protracted war.
War of manoeuvre. Once war of position is won, it is easy to go for direct action and capture the state. This is overnight, sudden attack e.g. According to Bipin Chandra, Indian national movement under Gandhi is the best example of Gramscian strategy. Gandhi-led mass movement was the protracted movement. Gandhi fought the British at two levels. At the level of hegemony or war of position. War of manoeuvre. British did not rule India only on the basis of force, they ruled India by convincing Indians that British rule is blessing in disguise. Hence Gandhi had to fight at two levels. The first challenge of Gandhi was to counter the myth of ‘civilizing mission’ and ‘benevolent despotism’. Hence Gandhi gave the counter hegemony in the form of critic of modern civilization. Gandhi established that modern civilization is not civilization. He called it as Satanic. Similarly by showing the people that government even imposes the tax on salt and uses force on non-violent protestors, he exploded the myth of benevolent despotism. Once Gandhi realized that the counter hegemony has got sufficiently established, people recognize that British empire is not a blessing but evil. Gandhi called for the war of manoeuvre. Quit India movement, where Gandhi even sanctioned the use of violence. “Do or die.”
Test Your Knowledge!
1] Gramsci’s ideas have been contained in the book
a) A Prison Diary
b) Letters from Prison
c) Reading Capital
d) Conversations with Myself
Ans: b) Letters from Prison
2] What was Gramsci’s main purpose?
a) To bring revolution in Italy
b) To criticize Marx
c) To know why Marxist predictions have gone wrong
d) To study Lenin and Mao
Ans: c) To know why Marxist predictions have gone wrong
3] According to Gramsci, which factors were ignored by Marx in his analysis of history?
a) Geographical factors
b) Cultural factors
c) Economic factors
d) Scientific factors
Ans: b) Cultural factors
4] Which of the following statements is NOT correct regarding Gramsci’s concept of civil society?
a) It acts as the first layer of protection for the capitalist economy
b) It consist of education, church, media, etc
c) It perpetuates the domination of capitalist class
d) It perpetuates socialist feelings among workers
Ans: d) It perpetuates socialist feelings among workers
5] Hegemony refers to
a) Ability of ruling class to generate consent
b) Ruling class’s power to punish
c) Tyranny of the Capitalist class
d) Opression of working class
Ans: a) Ability of the ruling class to generate consent
6] According to Gramsci, who plays the most important role in maintaing hegemony of the capitalist class?
d) Workers themselves
Ans: b) Intellectuals
7] The Quit India Movement can be called as
a) War of position
b) War of manoeuvre
c) Guerilla warfare
d) War of truth
Ans: b) War of manoeuvre